Who darns wins . . . super-strong knitwear created for SAS

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the times | Monday October 24 2016

Andrew Ellson
Consumer Affairs Correspondent

Knitwear is not exactly what you might
imagine special forces pull on as they
head to battle but advances in weaving
technology mean the SAS has started
wearing woollies on the front line.

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A British company has developed a
method to spin sheep’s wool into a yarn
that is only 17 microns thick — the
equivalent of less than a quarter of the
breadth of human hair—which can be
woven into super-tough cloth that offers
a critical edge in combat and other
extreme conditions.

Unlike oil-based garments it does not
combustwhenhit by bullets or shrapnel
and therefore does not burn the skin or
poison the bloodstream.

The “performance” wool also has an
edge on synthetic fabrics such as nylon
Who darns wins . . . super-strong knitwear created for SAS
and polyester because it does not melt
on to the skinwhenexposed to extreme
heat or flames, which can lead to disfiguring
burns. The company, Armadillo
Merino, said that its fabrics were also as
soft as cashmere and did not trap
odours, making them attractive for soldiers
on operations who might not
change for days.

The Derby-based business has recentlywon
contracts to supply theSAS,
Italian special forces, US police Swat
teams and even Nasa astronauts.

Andy Caughey, founder of the
company, said: “Wool’s properties are
astounding. When Nasa bought from
us, they said, ‘We have spent all this
time and money testing new materials
and wool has been there all along’.”

MrCaughey, who grew up on a sheep
farm in New Zealand, first identified a
commercial opportunity in adapting
fine grade wool for military use after
hearing about soldiers in Iraq suffering
severe burns when clothing melted on
to their flesh.

“Their clothes were maiming them
because the synthetic fabric was melting
and dripping into their wounds.

Their uniforms were highly flammable.
They were petro-chemical based and
so caught fire,” he said. “I thought they
should be wearing wool.”

Humans have been wearing wool for
at least 5,000 years but the technology
used by ArmadilloMerino is verymuch
of the 21st century.

The company uses laser scans to pick
the best fibres for length, strength, elasticity
and softness. It then uses a “complex
spinner” in a vacuumto tuck in the
loose ends that make wool itchy, creating
a yarn that is strong, smooth and
hard wearing.Amachine then knits the
yarn into fabric before another machine
stabilises the fabric permanently
using heat, pressure and water.

Mr Caughey is now looking to take
advantage of the fall in the value of the
pound to sell his range to the public
across theworld.“We are a British business
so the weak pound has been good
for us.Wesupply organisations in more
than 25 countries,” he said.

He conceded that most members of
the public were not at risk of getting
shot or burnt but believes his fabric’s
ability to manage moisture levels without
irritating the skin makes it “perfect
for runners and extreme athletes”.

The company is part of a resurgent
British wool industry that has seen
sales grow by more than 70 per cent in
the past six years thanks to a promotional
push by the Prince ofWales in his
Campaign for Wool.

The ”performance” wool is safer for
soldiers because it is not flammable

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